Due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, government introduced some economic assistance measures. However, there have not been any specific measures intended to help CSOs during the pandemic. Despite restrictions on movement, citizens have used alternative ways of protesting during the pandemic. There were concerning developments around freedom of expression during the reporting period. The Croatian Journalists' Association (HND) conducted a survey which found that there were 905 lawsuits against journalists and media outlets in Croatia. There were several cases involving physical or verbal attacks against journalists during the reporting period. In addition, media outlets face economic challenges, with the threat of closures and layoffs due to the pandemic.
The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic marked this reporting period. Along with many other measures to help curb the spread of the virus, the government introduced some economic assistance measures. However, there have not been any specific measures intended to help CSOs during the pandemic. Namely, it was announced that the planned funding calls will be implemented (e.g. the European Social Fund). However, these calls are directed at CSOs that mostly provide services and medical help for vulnerable groups as part of the COVID-19 response, which leaves other types of CSOs with a lack of funds.
Some have seen this move as an attempt by government to reshape civil society, as it will have a noticeable impact on advocacy-based organisations - usually the main critics of government. In a letter to the Government Office for Cooperation with NGOs, the Ministry of Labour and the Pension System, the Ministry of Regional Development and EU Funds and the National Foundation for Civil Society Development, the Initiative for a Strong Civil Society called on government representatives to revise the decision to restrict the use of state funds earmarked for funding CSOs and adopt measures to safeguard the work of civil society.
The Centre for Peace Studies is taking legal action against police officers accused of alleged degrading treatment towards 33 migrants and asylum seekers at the Croatian border with Bosnia. In a series of separate incidents, media reports state that police officers beat, tortured and painted red crosses on the heads of the migrants and asylum seekers, and in one instance officers claimed that this treatment was a ‘cure to the coronavirus’.
Today, #CPS filed a criminal complaint to the State Attorney's Office in Zagreb against the unknown perpetrators police officers based on a reasonable doubt of degrading treatment and torture of 33 people. https://t.co/zMB68s2ucd @LibertiesEU @lorenzo_tondo @guardian #migration pic.twitter.com/a3pWF8e5ui— CMS (@CMSZagreb) June 5, 2020
Amnesty International issued a statement calling for the European Union to take urgent action.
“The European Union can no longer remain silent and willfully ignore the violence and abuses by Croatian police on its external borders. Their silence is allowing, and even encouraging, the perpetrators of this abuse to continue without consequences. The European Commission must investigate the latest reports of horrifying police violence against migrants and asylum-seekers," - Massimo Moratti, Deputy Director of the Europe Office, following the latest incident on the Croatian border.
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, government introduced measures which limited movement and prevented large numbers of people gathering in public spaces, such as streets, squares, waterfronts and parks. Consequently, this affected citizens’ right to physically assemble and protest. GONG, a non-governmental organisation, stated that these restrictions should only be in place to protect people’s health and should not be misused.
The restrictions on movement have led to citizens using alternative ways of protesting.
Ahead of World Press Freedom Day, the Croatian Journalists' Association (HND) conducted a survey which found that there were 905 lawsuits against journalists and media outlets in Croatia. In a statement the HND said:
"Although 905 lawsuits against journalists and media outlets is fewer than last year, the number shows that the judicial prosecution of media outlets and journalists in Croatia is still present. It should be noted that the actual number is higher since we received data from only 18 media outlets," - HND president Hrvoje Zovko.
The HND added that judicial prosecutions serve as a means of intimidating journalists and media outlets so that they would give up on serious investigative stories, which is a serious problem that threatens media freedom.
The following cases involving physical or verbal attacks against journalists were documented:
“CJA has been warning for years that there is censorship on public television, banned topics and inconvenient interlocutors, as noted by numerous reports by international organisations dealing with freedom of speech and media.”
The Croatian Journalists' Association (HND) and the Trade Union of Croatian Journalists (SNH) have proposed urgent measures for saving journalism as the government’s COVID-19 measures do not extend to journalists and the media or address challenges faced by the industry. Many journalists have faced a reduction of wages and many face being laid off as some media outlets face the possibility of being shut down.
“Our sector was first to be hit by the ongoing crisis, and employers immediately began austerity, layoffs, cancellation of contracts with freelancers, pay cuts to people who endanger their health every day. We have repeatedly warned and asked for the protection of the news sector, not just publishers, but journalists because employers have been resorting to part-time work with journalists and other media professionals for decades because it is the easiest way for them to fire people,” - President of the Trade Union of Croatian Journalists, Maja Sever.
The statement called on government to provide a response which secures the sustainability of the sector and freedom of expression.